Towards an integrated global framework to assess the impacts of land use and management change on soil carbon: Current capability and future vision

Pete Smith, Christian A. Davies, Stephen Ogle, Giuliana Zanchi, Jessica Bellarby, Neil Bird, Robert M. Boddey, Niall P. McNamara, David Powlson, Annette Cowie, Meine van Noordwijk, Sarah C. Davis, Daniel de B. Richter, Len Kryzanowski, Mark T. van Wijk, Judith Stuart, Akira Kirton, Duncan Eggar, Geraldine Newton-Cross, Tapan K. AdhyaAdemola K. Braimoh

Research output: Contribution to journalLiterature reviewpeer-review

146 Citations (Scopus)


Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Tier 1 methodologies commonly underpin project-scale carbon accounting for changes in land use and management, and are used in frameworks for Life Cycle Assessment and carbon footprinting of food and energy crops. These methodologies were intended for use at large spatial scales. This can introduce error in predictions at finer spatial scales. There is an urgent need for development and implementation of higher tier methodologies that can be applied at fine spatial scales (e.g. farm/project/plantation) for food and bioenergy crop GHG accounting to facilitate decision making in the land-based sectors.

Higher tier methods have been defined by IPCCand must be well evaluated and operate across a range of domains (e.g. climate region, soil type, crop type, topography), and must account for land use transitions and management changes being implemented. Furthermore, the data required to calibrate and drive the models used at higher tiers need to be available and applicable at fine spatial resolution, covering the meteorological, soil, cropping system and management domains, with quantified uncertainties. Testing the reliability of the models will require data either from sites with repeated measurements, or from chronosequences.

We review current global capability for estimating changes in soil carbon at fine spatial scales, and present a vision for a framework capable of quantifying land use change and management impacts on soil carbon, which could be used for addressing issues such as bioenergy and biofuel sustainability, food security, forest protection, and direct/indirect impacts of land use change. The aim of this framework is to provide a globally-accepted standard of carbon measurement and modelling appropriate for GHG accounting that could be applied at project to national scales (allowing outputs to be scaled up to a country level), to address the impacts of land use and land management change on soil carbon.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2089-2101
Number of pages13
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Issue number7
Early online date9 Apr 2012
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2012


  • land use
  • land use change
  • model
  • monitoring
  • soil carbon


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